James Carville, the country’s best known and most colorful political consultant, was born on October 25, 1944. He grew up the oldest of eight children in Carville, Louisiana, a one-stop-sign town on the Mississippi River which was named at the turn of the century for his grandfather, the town’s postmaster. His father, Chester James Carville, was also a postmaster, as well as the owner of a general store. His mother, named Lucille but known to all as Miss Nippy, successfully sold World Book encyclopedias door-to-door and put all eight of her children through college with the proceeds.
Carville, who probably has managed more campaigns than any other political consultant in America, got his first job in politics-canvassing for a car dealer running for the Louisiana state legislature-while still a student at Ascension Catholic High School. In 1962 he entered Louisiana State University and-not to put too fine a spin on it-flunked out four years later. To assuage his Catholic guilt, he quickly enlisted in the Marine Corps. After serving for two years, at San Diego’s Camp Pendleton, he returned to LSU, finished his undergraduate degree at night, and then, with the financial assistance of an uncle, went on to earn a law degree. Carville was a litigator for a Baton Rouge law firm from 1973 until 1979, but he was never happy working as a lawyer, and as a result he spent much of his free time as a consultant to Democrats running for local and statewide offices. He managed his first campaign, a U.S. Senate race in Virginia, in 1982. The following year, while managing Lloyd Doggett’s unsuccessful bid for governor of Texas, he acquired the nickname “Ragin’ Cajun” and began his odd-couple professional collaboration with Paul Begala, who had just graduated from the University of Texas. The two teamed up full time in 1989 and formed the Carville & Begala political consulting firm, specializing in strategy, message development, “earned media,” and, above all, winning elections for Democrats.
Carville and Begala’s biggest win was Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency in 1992, the first time a Democrat had claimed the White House in 12 years. In 1993 Carville was honored as the Campaign Manager of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants for his leadership of Clinton’s fearsome and intense Little Rock campaign headquarters, known as the “War Room.” This role also made him the focus, along with George Stephanopoulos, of the feature-length documentary film “The War Room,” an Academy Award nominee. He is currently serving as a Senior Political Advisor to the President.
Carville’s long list of electoral successes also includes the 1991 U.S. Senate victory of Harris Wofford over Richard Thornburgh, in Pennsylvania; the 1990 gubernatorial victories of Zell Miller, in Georgia, and Robert P. Casey, in Pennsylvania; the 1988 re-election of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, in New Jersey; the 1987 gubernatorial victory of Wallace Wilkinson, in Kentucky; and the 1986 gubernatorial victory of Robert Casey, in Pennsylvania.
Carville is married to Mary Matalin, the deputy campaign manager of George Bush’s re-election bid, and now host of CNBC’s nightly political talk show “Equal Time” and the daily CBS radio program “The Mary Matalin Show.” The couple co-wrote All’s Fair: Love, War, and Running for President (Simon & Schuster/ Random House, 1994), one of the best selling campaign memoirs in American history. They had their first child, Matalin Mary Carville, last summer.